World Health Organization (WHO) Announces New Policy Position On Indoor Residual Spraying For Malaria Control

Staff Writers | 16 Sep 2006
Medical News Today
WHO today releases new policies on a highly effective method of malaria control - Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS). The new policy statement released by Dr. Arata Kochi, head of WHO's Global Malaria Program, is greatly welcomed by Africa Fighting Malaria, though it has been criticized by some western environmentalist groups for promoting the careful, targeted use of DDT. Dr Kochi called on environmentalist groups to join the WHO and help to save lives in Africa in the same way that they strive to save the environment.

IRS is a highly effective method of malaria control and DDT is one of the most effective insecticides that can be used in IRS programs. When used in targeted spraying for malaria control, DDT is safe for the environment and human health, yet until recently it was neglected or actively discouraged by donor agencies and the various UN organizations charged with malaria control. WHO's new guidelines seek to redress the historic bias against IRS and also against DDT and to strengthen the existing IRS programs around the world.

Furthermore, WHO will assist countries to improve their collection and analysis of data so as to improve operational research as well as policy evaluation and decision making.

In recent years, several Southern African countries have either expanded their IRS programs or initiated new spraying activities, ignoring international opposition to IRS often funding from within their own limited health budgets. The private sector has also undertaken myriad successful IRS projects. The result has been highly beneficial for communities affected by malaria. In South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zambia, IRS programs using insecticides such as DDT, have led to dramatic reductions in malaria cases. Other countries such as Uganda and Angola have recently re-started IRS in areas of epidemic malaria.

The Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria has financed IRS programs in several countries and has endorsed and funded the use of DDT.

According to renowned malaria expert, Prof. Don Roberts of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, "The new IRS policy is a great step in the right direction. Dr Kochi should be commended for recognizing the importance of IRS. Roll Back Malaria, the WHO's lead malaria control program has been a failure and Dr Kochi's effort to reform it and improve malaria control policy will save lives."

The US President's Malaria Initiative, within USAID, is currently funding IRS programs in Angola, Uganda and Zanzibar and will support IRS using DDT and other insecticides in additional countries. AFM's Richard Tren considers that the new IRS policy from WHO and the leadership from USAID "should encourage other donor agencies to do the right thing and fund IRS in those countries that wish to use it."

Environmentalist groups, such as Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) and Greenpeace have criticized WHO's decision to encourage the use of DDT. AFM's correspondence to Greenpeace on this issue has so far neither been answered, nor even acknowledged. The opposition to DDT is largely based on misplaced fears that IRS is harmful to the environment or that DDT is harmful to man, despite decades of evidence to the contrary (DDT harmed the environment when used in massive amounts in farming, there is no real evidence of harm to either humans or environment from public health use of DDT).

Environmentalist opposition to IRS in the past in part led to the WHO discouraging its use and forced some countries to abandon their IRS programs, costing lives among some of the world's most vulnerable communities. Unlike PANNA and Greenpeace, several respected environmentalist organizations, such as The Sierra Club and the Endangered Wildlife Trust of Southern Africa support the WHO's position on IRS and DDT.